Lover Men

Three films offer differing takes on the myth of the romantic hero

With such superb elements at his disposal, Caton-Jones could have easily created either a popcorn swashbuckler or a serious-minded, Iron John adventure epic about the consequences of machismo. But because he wants both and isn't very smart, he achieves neither. Rob Roy is the kind of muddled movie that allows the hero's wife to berate him for being stubborn and macho and relying on violence to solve things, then turns around and wraps up the narrative with a crowd-pleasing sword fight. It's also the kind of movie that goes to great lengths to provide the bad guys with believable motivations, then chucks them out the window during a village-pillage jamboree in which a cute dog is shot, houses are torched, cattle are slaughtered and the hero's wife is graphically raped on a kitchen table.

Even more damaging is the film's conception of Rob Roy as an archetypal hero who exists mostly to be adored; when he isn't bestowing his manly endowments on his ever-grateful wife, he's slaying enemies as if swatting flies, delivering helpful lectures to his sons or listening blank-faced as his fellow highlanders tell him how wise, fast, strong, deadly, handsome and potent he is. The result feels like a Steven Seagal movie directed by David Lean. Neeson is a monumental screen presence -- six feet three inches of pure testosterone, with a craggy face capped by a broken-prow nose that suggests an Easter Island statue with stubble. He doesn't need to be hyped. That his director seems hell-bent on doing so suggests that nobody involved with Rob Roy had the slightest idea of what they wanted to achieve.

Three years ago, Daniel Day-Lewis was ferociously convincing as a one-dimensional, rifle-slinging, quick-sprinting love god in Michael Mann's The Last of the Mohicans, but only because the film was structured as a hyperkinetic fairy tale with only the vaguest tethering to reality. It was a pure visceral experience. Judging from Rob Roy's newspaper ads, billboard images and television spots, United Artists would love to make moviegoers think they're buying a ticket to a Scottish version of the same. But they aren't. Rob Roy huffs and puffs on its celluloid bagpipes, but no music comes out -- just a long, slow, tuneless moan.

Jefferson in Paris.
Directed by James Ivory. With Nick Nolte.
Rated PG-13.
144 minutes.

Don Juan DeMarco.
Directed by Jeremy Leven. With Marlon Brando and Johnny Depp.
Rated PG-13.
97 minutes.

Rob Roy.
Directed by Michael Caton-Jones. With Liam Neeson.
Rated R.
139 minutes.

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